Title: Dark Souls III
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: From Software
Release Date: April 12th, 2016
Time Played: 43 Hours
Concept and Execution:
Over the last eight years, From Software has graced us with some of the best dungeon-crawling games ever created. Starting with the PS3 exclusive Demon’s Souls, they’ve released a spiritual successor in Dark Souls, a sequel in Dark Souls II, a remaster of the sequel in Scholar of the First Sin, and even another spiritual successor in Bloodborne. While that may seem like a lot, they haven’t missed a beat; though you could argue the case with Dark Souls II. Now we see the release of the third, and final in the revered series, Dark Souls III. Right from the start it’s clear that From Software knew where they had taken a few steps backwards with Dark Souls II, and has eliminated those issues.
You take on the role of one of several undead heroes that are cursed to wander around Lothric, referred to as “Unkindled”. This wanderer is then tasked with saving the world of Lothric, which is on the verge of an apocalypse. To do this, they must link the “First Flame” by defeating the five Lords of Cinder scattered throughout the world. Like in Bloodborne and previous Souls games, the story is never given to you directly. Sure, there are cutscenes here and there, but those aren’t to tell you the fleshed-out the story of the world around you. These are primarily to introduce you to new bosses or to show you a new area opening up before your eyes. The story is primarily found scattered through the many, many items you can collect. Every item in the game has a detailed description and sometimes has details about the lore of the world that help you fill in the blank spaces in the story. This makes for an exciting excursion where with every item you pick up, you immediately go and read the description.
While you can play the entire game solo, most of the fun I had with this game was engaging in cooperation with buddies. Like in previous games in the series, you have the ability to summon up to three other phantoms to help you along your journey, through the use of soapstones. While you would think that summoning a phantom to help you out in your world would make the game easier, the game scales the health of the enemies and bosses in the world to account for the extra manpower. This makes it so you can’t just go through and destroy everything easily with a buddy. You still have to use strategy and tactics with almost every area and boss, just as you would if you had attempted by yourself. In addition to the co-op, there is also a PVP element present in the game that is unlike any other game out there. You can summon a dark spirit into your world through the use of another soapstone, or you can just get casually invaded while you’re trying to progress throughout your world. Getting invaded gives you a sense of panic, because you never really know where the invader was summoned, nor do you know when they’ll strike. It makes you watch every step, and be on your toes because literally anything can happen. There is no other game on the market that can come close to replicating the multiplayer component in this game.
Dark Souls III executed everything in this game to near perfection. They set out to make the best possible Souls game they could for the last in the series, and they nailed it. There are a few rough edges here and there, but I didn’t feel they hampered the experience enough to make note of.
Concept and Execution Score: 25/25
I was initially very skeptical about Dark Souls III, due to the poor mechanics of the previous game. In Dark Souls II, the hit boxes were so atrocious I didn’t even finish the DLC. You could time all your rolls perfectly and be completely out of the way of an attack, and you’d still get hit. Well, no longer is this an issue! Dark Souls III has completely remedied this. If you get hit in this game, you know it was because they actually hit you, not some shoddy hit boxes. This was probably the biggest area of the game that needed fixing, and I’m glad that they addressed it in the way that they did.
The combat in this game is where it really shines. This is the most refined combat in the series. Where Dark Souls II felt a little stiff at times, Dark Souls III feels like a mixture of the best games in the series. It has a ridiculous amount of armor sets and weapons, similar to Dark Souls I and II, and the speed of the game feels like a mix between Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls II. The game is sped up compared to the previous two entries, but fits nicely somewhere between them and Bloodborne. It’s fast-paced and engaging but also requires you to think on your toes: make split decisions that could make or break that battle. They’ve also introduced a new mechanic called Weapon Arts. Each weapon has an ability that allows it to do a special move with it, such as sheathe a katana based weapon to unleash an suspecting dash attack or pulling off a devastation spin attack while using twinblades. This adds another element to mastering a weapon’s move-set, which gives hardcore players of the series something new to master in a game they’ve devoted hundreds of hours in. Due to these factors, the PvP is the best that it’s ever been. Playing against a non-player controlled enemy can usually boil down to learning attack patterns, but against an invader you’re less likely to have that advantage. This in turn requires you to have to think and react even faster than you would have had you just been fighting a regular enemy. I spent hours getting summoned into fight clubs to test my skills at PvP. I can already tell that I’ll be spending the majority of my time doing this in the future.
One of the major draws of this series always has been, and always will be, its’ boss battles. This entry makes no exception. This was another area in which my experience with Dark Souls II made me hesitant. I was wrong; oh boy was I wrong. There were maybe one or two bosses where I felt they got lazy in their design, but aside from these few, every boss in this game is incredible. I was particularly upset with the end boss. The amount of nostalgia thrown in is nice and all, but his attack patterns were too sporadic and felt a little bit cheap. Not every boss acts merely as a damage sponge either. With some bosses you may need to hit a weak spot to get an open, where others require a specific method or weapon to deal the most damage. The amount of thought that went into all of these is extraordinary.
Mechanics Score 25/25
I have never been as engrossed in a game’s world as I was with Dark Souls III. From the second you take control after the first cut scene, you legitimately feel like you’re in the world of Lothric. From the beautifully haunting music to the gorgeous backdrops, Dark Souls III does what many other games only attempt to accomplish.
There isn’t a whole lot of music that plays while you’re exploring the world, which is a good thing, due to the fact that you need to hear every little thing that is going on around you. The sound effects in this game make you feel like you’re actually walking around the world, instead of just playing a video game. The music is saved for the boss fights; which only serve to make them even more epic than they already are. Yuka Kitamura has masterfully composed some of the best boss themes the series has ever seen. The track that plays during the final conflict fits perfectly with what you’re doing, and makes for one of the most memorable moments I’ve ever experienced in video games. As far as sound design goes, this game is top notch in just about every aspect.
The art direction of this game lends a lot to making you feel immersed in the world. Hidetaka Miyazaki returns to the helm for this iteration, and it shows immediately. The world is very reminiscent of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, which is particularly evident in the amount of weapon and armor sets in the game. You may notice quite a few throwback items as you traverse throughout the world, which is a joy to those that played previous entries. The layout of the world actually feels connected: at one point in the game you’re standing atop a peak, and can overlook the entire area that you’ll be exploring for the next several hours. This is a design element that was severely lacking from Dark Souls II, and part of what made the original Dark Souls so special.
The graphics on this game are verging on some of the best that we’ve seen on the PlayStation 4 so far. It’s hard to believe a game that looks this beautiful runs as smoothly as it does on the console. Of course the game has a few frame rate drops every once in a while, but it happens so infrequently and it has little impact on the game, so I don’t feel it’s very significant. As of now, I have to imagine that this game represents the epitome of graphical quality on the PS4.
Atmosphere Score: 25/25
Dark Souls III is a game that has something for every player: whether you want to know the lore behind the world, or you only care about slaying monsters, chances are you’ll be satisfied with what this game has to offer. I could sit there and PvP for hours on end in a fight club, or I could sift through the item descriptions of the various items I’ve found throughout my playthrough. Both are equally satisfying and it’s rare for a game of this magnitude to achieve such a feat.
Just like other entries in the series, Dark Souls III offers players the option to experience through multiple playthroughs. Each time you start a new game+, the world is entirely reset: all bonfires you lit, bosses you defeated, NPCs you accidentally slaughtered – everything is reverted to the game’s base state. The exception is the difficulty of the enemies, which is increased, making the game still a challenge even as your character continues to grow as well. The pay-off for doing new game+ gives players the chance to experience different storylines that you may have missed in your previous attempts.
As mentioned above, the PvP is where this game truly shines, in my opinion, and where I spent the most of my free time throughout the game. Whether you choose to invade someone or participate in a “fight club”, the outcome is very rarely the same. While invading somebody to ruin adventure is fun, in my opinion, “fight clubs” are the way to go when it comes to PvP. You get summoned into the hosts’ world through the red soapstone, and fight other dark spirits that the host has summoned. If there is a fight going on, you wait your turn and watch the ensuing battle. There’s a sense of honor to participating in a fight club that is rarely seen in other multiplayer games. With multiple fighting styles, players can spend hours just trying out new weapons and move-sets in PvP.
Entertainment Value Score: 25/25
Dark Souls III is as close to perfect as any game that we’ve seen so far. There’s not a whole lot of criticisms you can make that are bad about it that aren’t minimal at best. Dark Souls III is one of those rare games that can capture you in a way that not a lot of others can. You’ll get lost in the world, all the while just trying to stay alive and save every estus flask that you can for the inevitable boss fight at the end of an area. While it’s sad that this is the final game in the series, this is the perfect way to send out one of the best series that we may ever see. There’s no other game out there quite like Dark Souls III; and I think it may be best that way.
Overall Score: 100/100